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‘Democracy’ sections of council websites underperforming – Socitm

Almost half of all local authority websites do not hold sufficient data about councillors, according to Socitm’s latest Better Connected report.

The annual survey, now in its seventeenth year, revealed that 46% of UK councils failed to meet the Better Connected standard for identifying local authority representatives. Over two-fifths of sites failed specifically because the names and parties of local councillors could not be found.

Socitm, the professional association for IT and digital managers working in local public service organisations, added that “there is clearly work to do in this area”.

As well as the key question ‘Can I find out name and party of councillors for my ward using street or postcode search?’ the survey included six others on related issues.

“The poor result for this task is indicative of the fact that democracy sections of local authority websites have failed to evolve significantly in the last few years,” said Socitm.

“It is not satisfactory to have to know the name of your ward in order to find your councillor, especially where no advice is given for finding out which ward you live in. Furthermore, it is often difficult to find a simple clear statement of which political party is in control of the council.”

For the first time in the 2015 report, information about how local authorities manage local government online, including  governance, strategy and policy, content management, performance and usage measurement, resources and  budgets was included.

Approximately 40% of the UK’s local authority responded to this survey, including nearly 50% of county and single-tier councils and 66% of Scottish councils.

It revealed that where web performance accountability is to a corporate management board, or a tier 1 or 2 officer, performance in Better Connected is 37% higher than where it is reported lower down, including the 41% that report to a head of service (tier 3 or below).

Also, having the chief executive as the organisation’s ‘digital champion’ impacted positively on performance in the Better Connected findings.

The Digital Accessibility Centre, which carried out accessibility testing for the report, found that 176 councils (43%) were rated as satisfactory, after looking at the average number of top tasks (eg ‘Find out how to register a death’ ‘Report a bonfire problem’ or ‘Apply for a council tax reduction’) that achieved the Better connected standard.

The 2015 survey has seen a recovery in the proportion of sites passing the accessibility test after this fell to 26% in 2014. The large drop from 45% in 2013 was largely attributed to the introduction of testing on mobiles.

Socitm, again for the first time, looked at information about websites that have been redesigned in 2014 up to the date of the latest review, and used data from the main survey to evaluate the effectiveness of those re-designs.

Data about such sites – 63 in total – was gathered by Kevin Jump, the former web manager at

Liverpool City Council, who now runs digital consultancy

Better Connected investigated the impact of the redesign on the websites’ star rankings. The results are surprising: while 22 (one-third of those redesigned) improved their ranking or retained their (maximum) four stars, 30 sites, (about half) did not improve or progress beyond a below-par two or one star ranking, suggesting that despite a redesign, “their sites appear to be repeating errors made in the past”.

In addition, only 34 councils (8% of the total and two more than in 2014) achieved the top four star ranking. The mobile experience has improved slightly with 32% passing the general assessment of the mobile experience (31% last year).

Using criteria embedded in the Better Connected mobile assessment, 57% of sites can be judged as ‘mobile friendly’. The report notes that 51% of council sites pass the new but more limited Google test of ‘mobile-friendliness’.

In his foreword to the Better Connect 2015 report, Brighton & Hove leader Cllr Jason Kitcat added his voice to those calling for a Local Government Digital Service.

He said: “There is some fabulous digital work out there, some brilliant apps, websites and more as evidenced by this report. But it’s not enough. If we continue at this pace of change, then the transformation will only be ready long after our sector is dead and buried.”

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